At Illinois State University, two separate departments work together to design and investigate virtual reality (VR) environments for use in speech-language pathology rehabilitation.
In 2018, Dr. Isaac Chang, who specializes in VR, technological design and robotics, and Dr. Jennine Harvey-Northrop, a speech pathologist specializing in cognition and aging, discussing VR applications for therapy. Chang and Harvey-Northrop planned to create a space that would help patients in their transition from the clinic to the real world, and hopefully allow patients to generalize skills.
Through their initial discussions and research, Harvey-Northrop and Chang decided that in order to create this complex environment, they would need collaboration with several other specialties. Dr. Megan E. Cuellar, a speech-language pathologist, and Nanci Solomon, a technical specialist, were asked to join the team to provide further perspectives. Both work at San Jose State University in California, which has an extensive IT department and a significant interest in VR. Together, Harvey-Northrop and Cuellar form the communication science and disorder leaders for the design, implementation, and modification of protocol administration through the pilot experimental phases of the study.
Chang and Solomon manage the design, coding and refinement of the VR environment. The use of two mirrored research teams at both universities gives primary researchers a unique opportunity to utilize the best resources that both universities have to offer. The collaboration between the two different areas has successfully provided a plan to treat patients in a new way. This has the potential to affect the treatment of patients in speech-language pathology.
Across allied health professions, interprofessional practice and education are highly valued. Collaboration in healthcare provides a team-based perspective and provides patients with the highest possible quality of care. It also reduces errors and gives faster results. It is not only beneficial for the patients but also the healthcare professionals. Working with different areas to achieve the same goal can reduce the workload of those involved. It also provides opportunities for new and innovative ideas that may not have been originally thought of. Working as a team allows different individuals with different specialties to achieve a common goal. Interprofessional practices in various fields are becoming increasingly common due to the great benefits.
Pilot study details: The goal is to create a variety of VR environments for cognitive and linguistic interventions. Participants will include ages 18-30 and 55-90 years with normal cognitive aging and individuals 18 years and older with aphasia, traumatic brain injury, and mild cognitive impairment. Results will assess communication, cognitive, linguistic performance and a generalization of skills. The wide range of populations participating will give researchers the best idea of who will benefit most from the study. Both universities will implement the same protocol in their respective cities. The pilot study is scheduled to begin in the coming spring of 2022.